I watched the new adaptation of Persuasion on PBS last night (part of The Complete Jane Austen series)and was rather disappointed. My biggest complaint was that the run time was only 1 1/2 hours, and it felt VERY rushed. Contrast that with the 1995 version starring Amanda Root, which I believe is only about 15 minutes longer but feels much more spacious. With the new production, they had plenty of shots of Anne writing in her diary that could easily have been jettisoned in order to give more time to events that move the plot along or develop character. They also changed plot points for no reason that I could see. I’m something of a purist when it comes to adapting novels, but I’ll allow for some changes if they are necessary to the production and don’t alter the point or tone of the original. For example, sometimes you have to jettison secondary characters in order to fit everything in. Emma Thompson did this nicely in Sense & Sensibility, eliminating Lady Middleton and Lucy Steele’s sister without compromising the essential narrative. However, the changes in this production seemed pretty arbitrary and so I just found them annoying.

Also, I’m going to start referring to the new version as “Blair Witch Persuasion” because there was so much shaky camera work. I SUSPECT that they were trying to give the viewer a sense of immediacy, but I found it really distracting.

And finally, some of the characterizations were just off. Mr. Elliot was almost evil – in the book he’s just so self-absorbed and vain that he can’t be bothered to notice or value anything that doesn’t further his own interests. To be actively malicious would require too much effort. And Mary Musgrove was a nightmare of quirks and tics. The character is annoying enough on her own – you really don’t need to add anything to that! Sophie Thompson did a near-perfect characterization of Mary in the 1995 production, which is not perfect but is very good and which I would definitely recommend over the one I watched last night.